Painting Title: Death and the Maiden (La Jeune Fille et la Mort)
Artist: Marianne Stokes (1855-1927)
I was skimming through my really sad Facebook account months ago when this painting caught my eye and upon reading the title, I knew I had to blog Death and the Maiden one way or another. It had taken months, yes, because I slack a lot plus my plate’s always full. I am much obligated to work and rarely have time to delve into the dark abyss of the Internet.
The title alone is enough to give you goosebumps. If I hadn’t seen the image first, I would have imagined a young girl (a virgin, of course) getting raped by Death; or a maiden snatched by a malevolent creature of darkness (think Hades and Persephone).
In an unexpected turn of events, Death in the painting is depicted as a woman, dressed in black, with dark wings I am quite infatuated with. The young girl across her appears to have suddenly awoken – the sight of Death obviously scaring the shit out of her. Her face is a cocktail of fear and “what the fuck?!” – curiosity looming over her in a why-am-I-seeing-this fashion.
Now there are two ways I’d like to interpret this masterpiece:
- Death and the girl could be the same person. Something really fucked up happened while she was sleeping and she “woke up” face to face with her own “Death” self. Notice how Goth chick holds her hand up like, “Chill, it’s just me – I mean you, but dead.”
The painting kinda suggests the sudden death of the girl, but in a dreamlike sequence.
- Maybe Death is a girl… all this time. The maiden, unable to absorb the unexpected plot twist, holds the blanket to her chest and whispers, “NOOOO SHIT.”
Between the two I kinda like number one. The latter sounds more fun but the former seems to me makes a lot of sense.
How would you interpret the painting?
Painting Title: Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen
Artist: Caspar Wolf (1735-1783)
Location: Private Collection
Swiss painter Caspar Wolf was known primarily for his landscape paintings, those with the Alps to be precise. Wolf’s imagery of glaciers, waterfalls, caves or creeks are epic, and so much so that with the aid of the grey tone of colorization in his paintings, those natural formations seem cold and impervious- a lurking hostility that welcomes not the viewers’ ready absorption. One can imagine standing before a grand painting by Wolf and not awed by its overwhelming magnificence but woefully dwarfed by its monstrosity.
Seen here the 1777 painting titled, Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen. A precipitous bridge straddles between the gorges, which magnitude dominates the majority of the canvas, and reduces the sky to merely a conical view. A rumbling stream of water races to its still pool, and the boisterous spirit within, reluctant to be transmuted abruptly to insipid sedateness, bubbles still white and frothy.
The travelers, possibly trudging up to the summit, and down through all the creaks and crevices untrammeled, suddenly encounter this bridge, which, thanks to the white vapor of the waterfall, is made only dimly visible. One can almost feel the palpitation of the travelers’, when the deafening din of the rushing water only contributes to their growingly fainter hearts. Finally, an audacious one takes a tentative step on the wobbly-looking bridge, and nimbly he crosses to the safe side all in one breathe. Triumphantly the victor raises his horse and beckons his companions to come trotting through.
For me the painting is an embodiment of courage, a whipping-up of the collective morale, and a shaft of hopeful light through the heavily encompassing mist of desolation and danger. It is also a pictorial evidence of the underestimated power of men, which is often preternaturally augmented when facing their toughest moment.
Art, in adherence to its supremacy, prefers to let the emotions shown and sentiments felt rather than making explicit of the sexual matter. The theme with a couple interlocking in a passionate kiss was the favorite amidst artists who were daring enough to realize the passionate feelings or even, the sexual tensions, through their artworks. It cannot be more practical to use sculpture as a medium for embodying the motion of a kissing couple.
Auguste Rodin, being a sculptor who was noted for his revolutionary technique that marked him as a forerunner of Modern sculptures, showed also a departure of subject matters from those in the antiquity in The Kiss (1889). Marble seems more like a pristine guise for this rather rapturous depiction of love- just look at how the woman writhes her arms around the man’s neck, taking the initiative in procuring a kiss. Even with a sculpture like this that oozes unabashed eroticism, for decency’s sake Rodin restrained the potential gratuity of such intense sentiment. Modesty can be seen in the discreet distance of the pair that, despite their unabated love and irresistible desire, keeps their bodies from being too recklessly intertwined. Eroticism was not something Rodin courted but just pure, unalloyed manifestation of love.
Rodin’s The Kiss (1889)
Rodin’s 1889 sculpture reminds me of a painting by Francesco Hayez – the coincidentally titled The Kiss (1859). It is obvious that from how the man is dressed (cape and broad-brimmed hat), the meeting of the couple is surreptitious and thus the kiss should be quick but no less passionate. An impression of conspiracy and danger adds to this painting, with the subtle treatment of its lighting that underscores both figures’ silhouettes, which lurk stealthily up the stairs. Unbeknownst to the couple but to the astounded eyes of the viewers a third silhouette is visible just behind the pillar. As if witnessing a tragedy slowly unfolds, danger looms when the couple still revel in their ecstasy. We all know they will be a doomed pair.
Francesco Hayez – The Kiss (1859)
Even under the straitlaced and morally-superior societies like the 18th and early 19th century England, such themes, much to the wonder of the high-minded detractors who considered such “pulp fictions” a considerable threat to the well-being of the community, still managed to flourish. Today, viewers scarcely blush when beholding such art pieces in galleries, but once the passion is powerful enough, our every sense still pricks up.